Will Marshall: Tiny satellites that photograph the entire planet, every day


Will Marshall is creator of planet.com.


The famous first photos of the earth as a blue ball are beautiful, and remind us how important and fragile the Earth is. Since then we have photographed every point on the globe with high resolution technology, but the photos available to us now are typically years old. The problem is that satellites are massive – weighing 3Tonnes, costing $855 million, and needing a rocket to launch them – they are not scalable to a large satellite fleet. Will’s team has constructed a 4kg satellite, with dimensions of 10cm x 10cm x 30cm named Dove. It has advanced electronics, and takes photos of similar quality to the largest satellites. The tiny satellites can be built in a production line and launched en masse – he will launch 100 of these in the next year.

The satellites will scan the earth as it moves beneath them – taking a photo of every point on earth every day. This will vastly increase the amount of satellite photo data available, and it will be released freely to democratise the information. He is passionate about how this data can be used to improve humanity – how environmental or development groups can use the data.

He can track urban growth on a daily basis, water and crop availability. This can be used to optimise crop yields, or just track humanity. The photos will capture the daily news – being able to see every bushfire or flood or earthquake in a daily snapshot. There are many uses for the data, and Will is releasing it freely for anyone to discover the uses for it. App developers, NGOs, journalists will use it freely.

Together, we can take care of our ‘spaceship Earth’. If you could photograph the Earth every day, what would you do with that data?

My Thoughts

The satellites are a fascinating device, but the applications are more of a question than anything. The curious side in me is fascinated to construct stop motion animations of cities growing from nothing over the next hundred years, but difficult to find uses today. He has a ‘build it and they will come’ mindset, and while I share his optimism that someone will be able to use this data, I also worry that the people with the resources to use it (large IT companies, governments) are capable of building their own satellites.

I do like the idea of daily snapshots of major bushfires, floods. It will make these events feel more real – rather than just something that happens on TV occasionally.

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